BARACK Obama has declared that the voices of the Egyptian people have been heard and their country will never be the same again after the resignation of Hosni Mubarak.
But the US President today warned that Egypt still faced “tough days ahead” with the former leader’s resignation marking the beginning of a transition to democratic government – not the end.
Mr Obama made a statement four hours after Egyptian Vice-President Omar Suleiman announced that Mr Mubarak had decided to relieve himself of his position as president and hand control to the country’s supreme military council.
Before his address, Mr Obama spent time with his national security advisers and carefully crafted his words.
Protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, exhilarated after their 18 days of revolt forced the end of Mr Mubarak’s 30-year rule, hope Egypt’s military council will adhere to pledges for transitional rule until free and fair elections are held in September.
Mr Obama praised the military for acting patriotically and responsibly, and lauded protesters for their largely peaceful demonstrations.
“Over the last few weeks, the wheel of history turned at a blinding pace,” he said.
Only yesterday, the US President had barely contained his anger at Mr Mubarak’s decision, now reversed, to remain President while handing most of his powers to Vice-President Suleiman.
Based on intelligence from Egypt, the White House had appeared to believe that Mr Mubarak would quit yesterday, and Mr Obama issued a harsh statement urging the ageing leader to spell out clear steps for change when he appeared set to remain in office.
Sustained public pressure for Mr Mubarak to resign and support for his departure among leaders in the Egyptian military appear to have prompted a change of heart overnight, leading to today’s announcement.
Mr Obama said: “The people of Egypt have spoken. Their voices have been heard and Egypt will never be the same.
“By stepping down, President Mubarak responded to the Egyptian people’s hunger for change, but this is not the end of Egypt’s transition. It’s the beginning.
“I’m sure there will be difficult days ahead, and many questions remain unanswered.
“But I am confident that the people of Egypt can find the answers, and do so peacefully, constructively, and in the spirit of unity that has defined these last few weeks.
“For Egyptians have made it clear that nothing less than genuine democracy will carry the day.”
Mr Obama said the US would continue to be a friend and partner to Egypt. “We stand ready to provide whatever assistance is necessary – and asked for – to pursue a credible transition to a democracy.”
The changes that had occurred in Egypt belonged entirely to that country and its people, Mr Obama said.
But he compared the demonstrators’ success with others past in Germany, India and Indonesia, and evoked the words of the late African-American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King.
“As Martin Luther King said in celebrating the birth of a new nation in Ghana while trying to perfect his own, ‘There is something in the soul that cries out for freedom’.
“Those were the cries that came from Tahrir Square, and the entire world has taken note.”